Student visas and student sponsors - Covid-19 FAQs
We summarise below FAQs arising from the Home Office’s published Covid-19 Guidance for Student Sponsors, migrants and short-term students.
Our FAQs have been updated to reflect the terminology of the new Student and Child Student Routes, which came into effect on 5 October 2020, and replace the Tier 4 (General) and Tier 4 (Child) visa routes.
If you have any questions about Student immigration please get in touch with Anna Blackden (Associate).
Can we continue sponsoring existing students via distance learning?
- Yes – The Covid-19 Guidance confirms this is permitted and it does not matter if your sponsored students or child students (including Tier 4 visa holders) are physically in the UK or overseas. This includes continuing to sponsor students who need to extend their leave to take examinations and assessments remotely.
- Where a sponsored student is continuing to study via distance learning, whether within the UK or abroad, sponsors do not need to report this as a change of student circumstances.
Are we allowed to sponsor new students via distance learning?
- Yes – According to the Covid-19 Guidance Student sponsors can now assign CAS to new students who will start studying through distance or 'blended' learning for the 2020/2021 academic year, provided the student will transition to face to face learning as soon as circumstances allow.
- New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but wish to start a course which they intend to begin overseas by distance learning before travelling to the UK to transition to face to face learning must be issued a CAS and obtain a visa under the Student or Child Student route before travelling. The Covid-19 Guidance also provides that the course start date on the CAS can either state the date on which the course commences by distance learning or the date on which the student intends to commence learning in the UK. It is at the discretion of the Student sponsor which course start date is used. The period of permission granted will be calculated based on the course dates on the CAS.
- New international students who wish to start a course which will wholly be studied overseas by distance learning do not require sponsorship under the Student or Child Student routes because they do not need to travel to the UK.
- The distance learning concession will remain in place for the duration of the 2020-2021 academic year, at which point it will be reviewed.
Do we need to report students who miss ten expected contact points due to Covid-19?
- No - Sponsored students who cannot meet the requirements for recording physical contact points due to moving to distance learning, or who are absent from classrooms or work placements as a result of Covid-19 related illness or travel, do not need to be reported for missing expected contact points.
- The Covid-19 Guidance also states, where a student is studying by distance learning, including overseas study, student sponsors should use, where possible, expected online contact points such as logging into online learning portals and attending virtual lectures and tutorials to monitor academic engagement. Student sponsors should ensure that their students know their engagement will be monitored in this way and the requirements that they must meet. However, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms that the the Home Office will not take action against sponsors who are unable to monitor online contact points due to practical or technical limitations.
- Sponsors should ensure that attendance records include evidence that any student absence is Covid-19 related.
Do we have to withdraw sponsorship where students cannot attend our site due to Covid-19 related reasons?
- No – The Covid-19 Guidance confirms sponsors do not need to report or withdraw sponsorship where students have been issued a permission under the Student or Child Student routes but they:
- Are undertaking distance learning because they cannot travel to the UK or
- Are in the UK but cannot attend their studies in person due to Covid-19
- Student sponsors also do not have to withdraw sponsorship if a student is unable to attend for more than 60 days due to Covid-19 but intends to resume their studies.
- However, if a student stops engaging with their distance learning for more than 30 days, whether overseas or in the UK, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms the Student sponsor must withdraw sponsorship. Sponsors should maintain a record of students who are absent for Covid-19 related reasons.
- The Covid-19 Guidance also confirms that students who do withdraw from their studies as a result of Covid-19 will be discounted from a Student sponsor’s data in future Basic Compliance Assessments. Sponsors should retain records to evidence that a student has withdrawn for Covid-19 related reasons.
Can a CAS be used to support a visa application where it has expired or the course start date on the CAS has changed due to Covid-19?
- Yes - Where a CAS was issued between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, Student and Child Student applications can still be made using CAS that was previously issued.
- The start date for the course may now be later than that stated on the CAS for the original course or the CAS may have expired. The Covid 19 Guidance confirms the Home Office will take a pragmatic approach to considering applications to study courses with significantly different start dates to those stated on CAS or expired CAS.
- Where a CAS issued between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 has become invalid because it has expired, or was marked as ‘used’ in an application and the student was unable to travel due to Covid-19, the Home Office will exceptionally consider accepting that same CAS with a new visa application on a case by case basis. The CAS will be accepted if the Home Office caseworker is satisfied that the reason the applicant couldn’t previously use it in an application or travel to the UK was due to Covid-19.
- The Covid-19 Guidance confirms that if a Student sponsor is assigning a CAS to a student based on a temporary concession, this must be noted in either the CAS evidence or the Sponsor Notes section of the CAS.
Can we accept copies of a sponsored student’s BRP and passports where we cannot see the originals?
- Yes - Where it is no longer practical or safe for a student to submit these documents in person, or where sponsor sites are closed due to Covid-19 social distancing measures, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms that it is acceptable for a digital copy such as a scan or photograph to be provided and kept on file.
Where a student cannot take an English Language test as the test centre is closed in their home country, can we self-assess the student’s English Language ability ourselves?
- Yes – But only in relation to pre sessional English courses.
- Many English Language Test centres globally have resumed services and where an English Language Testing centre has re-opened, students are required to obtain a Secure English Language Test (SELT) in the normal way.
- If an English Language Test Centre is unavailable/remains closed, sponsors who are Higher Education Providers with a track record of compliance can self-assess a student’s English Language ability at CEFR Level B1, only where:
- A student cannot take the test as a result of the closure of test centres in their country and
- They need to study a pre sessional course
- If a SELT test centre reopens after a CAS has been assigned under this concession but before the CAS has been used in an application, the student must take a SELT test and the CAS updated accordingly. The only exception is if an English Language Test Centre opens less than 7 calendar days before the application was submitted, in which case an applicant can rely on their Higher Education provider's English Language assessment.
Are there any additional considerations for sponsored Child students who are under 18?
- Yes - Any Student sponsor which is currently sponsoring a Child student aged under 18 (including Tier 4 Child Students) has a continuing duty of care while the child remains under its sponsorship and is in the UK - even if the child has stopped studying.
- Such safeguarding duties mean that sponsors of child students must continue to ensure suitable care arrangements are in place for them if they remain in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic, even if they are not attending classes.
Our Ofsted inspection has been delayed due to Covid-19, will this be a problem for our Student Sponsor licence?
- No – statutory inspection cycles are being affected and potentially delayed by restrictions on physical inspections. The Home Office has confirmed that unless it already has serious concerns about a sponsor, it will take a pragmatic approach to unavoidable delays in inspections caused by Covid-19. It will also allow inspection bodies to use other inspection methods such as virtual meetings or desk-based inspections.
- The Covid-19 Guidance confirms the Home Office will not reduce a sponsor’s CAS allocation to zero due to Educational Oversight delays. Student sponsors are advised to keep a record of any communications from their Educational Oversight body about cancelled, delayed or desk based inspections.
Can we still expect a Home Office Compliance Audit?
- Yes – The Home Office confirmed on 12 August 2020 that it will shortly resume sponsorship compliance audits of sponsors. Compliance visiting activity had been suspended following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.
- New measures will be in place during Home Office compliance visits to comply with Public Health England advice and social distancing will be observed.
Student Visa Applicants
I am currently in the UK on a visitor visa. Can I stay in the UK and switch to a Student visa?
- The Covid-19 concessions which allowed such a switch from a Visitor Visa to a Tier 4 visa have now expired.
- The new Student and Child Student rules, however, allow more applicants to apply from within the UK for a Student or Child Student visa. There are now only limited categories of visa holders who cannot apply in the UK including Visitors, Short Term Student, Parent of Child Students, permission outside the Immigration Rules and those on immigration bail.
As a result of Covid-19, my studies have been disrupted and I cannot finish my course before my student visa expires. Can I apply to extend my student visa from the UK?
- Yes – to obtain further permission to complete an existing course, students must still meet all other requirements of the Student or Child Student routes, including maintenance requirements if the applicant has been in the UK for less than one year with valid permission. Students must normally apply to study a course that commences no more than 28 days after their current period of permission expires. However, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms that the Home Office will exercise discretion if the start date of the new course named on the CAS is no later than 31 December 2020.
- Students who are unable to complete their course of study within their current period of student immigration permission due to Covid-19 can apply from within the UK to complete that course. This includes students who need further time to complete an assessment or sit exams. Student sponsors can issue a CAS for students who need to take an exam or assessment remotely. Students who need to repeat a year, retake a module or resit an exam are exempt from demonstrating academic progression as would normally be the case for those applying in the UK. Further to this exemption, students who would otherwise need more time to complete a course as a result of Covid-19 will be exempt from demonstrating academic progression (for example, where a sponsor suspended studies for the duration of any social distancing measures).
Can I start my course before my Student or Child Student visa application has been decided?
- Yes – Where you have submitted a Student or Child Student application in the UK, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms students can start your course before your visa application has been decided, provided the following conditions are satisfied:
- Your sponsor is a Student sponsor
- You have a CAS
- You submitted your application before your current visa expired and provided your sponsor evidence of this
- The course you start is the same as the one listed on the CAS and
- You have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate, if required
- Please note, however, if your Student or Child Student visa application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused, your sponsor would have to end teaching and withdraw your sponsorship.
As a result of Covid-19, my studies have been disrupted and it will take longer than expected to complete my course. Will the Student rules about maximum study lengths provide any flexibility to allow me to study my next course in the UK?
- Maybe - The maximum length of time that a student can be granted permission to study in the UK below postgraduate level will remain the same (i.e. 2 years for below degree level study and 5 years for degree level, subject to limited exceptions). However, the Covid-19 Guidance confirms the Home Office may apply discretion in the future where any period of leave that would cause a student to exceed the study limits was as a result of Covid-19. Under the new Student Route, there is no time limit for those studying above degree level.
When I arrive in the UK, will I have to self-isolate for 14 days?
- Under current rules, international students arriving to study in the UK from 8 June 2020 will be subject to the UK’s self-isolation or ’quarantine’ rules.
- You will need to provide your journey and contact details on an online passenger locator form 48 hours or less before you travel to the UK. Once in the UK, you will not be allowed to leave the place where you are staying for the first 14 days, except in very limited situations.
- If you travel to England, you will not have to self-isolate if you have come from one of the countries with travel corridor exemption. You will still be required to self-isolate if you have visited or stopped in a country that is not on the travel corridors exemption list in the previous 14 days.
- International students who arrive from one of the countries with travel corridor exemption, will still have to provide details of your location in the UK by completing a passenger locator form.
- There are different self-isolation rules and countries with a travel corridor exemption for international students travelling to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
- You should contact your Student sponsor about support they are putting in place for international students needing to self-isolate for the first 14 days
I have a police registration condition in my student visa. How will I do this if I need to self-isolate?
- The Covid-19 Guidance states that that students who are required to register with the police, or who need to notify the police of a change of circumstances, should check with your local police force whether it is possible to register at this time. Where it is not possible, students must register with the police or update your information once police services re-open.
Will I still be eligible for the new Graduate Immigration Route visa if I had to study some of my modules via overseas distance learning due to Covid-19?
- Yes – The Covid-19 Guidance confirms that any time spent studying outside the UK due to Covid-19 will not count against sponsored students applying for a Graduate Immigration route visa provided that they enter the UK before 6 April 2021 and complete the final semester of their studies in the UK with student immigration permission.
- The new Graduate Immigration Route is still scheduled to be launched in the Summer of 2021.
If you have any questions about Tier 4 immigration please get in touch with Anna Blackden (Associate).